Setting the Stage
When I say “marquee matchup,” the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals are not the first two teams that come to mind. Over the past ten years, the two teams sport a combined record of 113-207, good for a .353 winning percentage.
(photo credit: Mark Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
Sure, more of that lies on Detroit’s shoulders due to 2008’s 0-16 season, especially since Arizona saw moderate success in the Kurt Warner era. But the two teams, for the most part, have been bottom feeders in their respective divisions for even longer than ten years.
Aside from their history as divisional punching bags, Arizona and Detroit have other similarities. Both teams look to be on the upswing. Both play in stacked divisions, and have very modest preseason expectations. And both possess superstar receivers.
For a game that will almost certainly fly under the national radar, there is a lot riding on this game for both teams. Detroit looks to build momentum after a strong week one win in Minnesota, which saw new running back Reggie Bush amass 191 yards on 25 touches, one of which was a 77-yard touchdown catch.
They face a different monster in Arizona. After a tough loss in St Louis, the Birdgang is glad to be on their home turf to host the Lions. It is at University of Phoenix Stadium that head coach Bruce Arians hopes to get his first win as Cardinals head coach, and he has to feel confident in what he saw week one out of his passing game. Carson Palmer was pretty darn impressive in his debut, going 26 for 40 with 327 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Of those numbers, 20 completions and 259 yards went to Arizona’s top three receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. Detroit’s pass defense has their work cut out for them.
Here’s who to watch in the battle of Red versus Blue.
Patrick Peterson vs. Calvin Johnson
(photo credit: USA Today Sports)
Whenever you witness the best player at his position, you drop everything you’re doing, and just watch it, jaw dropped, in awe. Every Wayne Gretzky needs a Mario Lemieux, and every LeBron James needs a Kobe Bryant; that one guy who can possibly stop the star from having their way.
This is a lot of exposition for this matchup, but whenever the greatest receiver in the game matches up with one of the greatest cornerbacks in the game, it’s no exaggeration that this battle will be fought tooth and nail all four quarters.
When the two teams met last season in week 15, it was stalematish. Megatron caught 10-of-17 passes thrown at him for 121 yards, but Peterson defended two of them, kept him out of the end zone, and also managed to get an interception while covering him.
This battle between All Pros will fit the bill, and it will be exciting to see who comes out on top.
Stafford to Megatron vs. Palmer to Fitz
Fitz and Megatron. (photo credit: Mark Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
I know I already included Calvin Johnson, but I want to shift the focus to a different dynamic in the game.
While both defenses are incredibly talented, I am near certain that this game will turn into a shootout. When it does, we may begin to see an “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” sentiment develop between the two big-armed quarterbacks and their equally big-handed receivers.
What’s that? Fitzgerald caught a 30-yard touchdown? Throw it to me, Matthew. I’ve got this one.
The only thing that could prevent this from coming to fruition is how much more balanced Arizona’s receiving corps is, as Palmer will never feel pressure to hone in on exclusively Fitzgerald.
Lions Players vs. Refs
Suh and the Lions hope the zebras cut them some slack. (photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Last week, the Lions committed 11 penalties for 88 yards. Only Tampa Bay and Seattle were worse in the eyes of the refs. Two of these penalties resulted in touchdowns being brought back, an absolute no-no when deadlocked in a tight game.
Ndamukong Suh is the martyr in the sense that many slap the “dirty” label on him and his Lions team. That’s a little misleading, as Suh was called for only one 15-yard penalty all last season.
Still, Detroit has been in the top ten in penalty yards the past three seasons. Whether it’s dirty play or aggressive play, it would behoove the Lions to not beat themselves on the field, especially with a team that can capitalize on those mistakes like the Cardinals.
Reggie Bush vs. Jasper Brinkley
While the first matchup pitted two at the top of their game, this last matchup pits two who are coming off stellar week one performances.
Reggie Bush ran for 90 yards on 21 carries, and was his usual self catching balls out of the backfield in the win against Minnesota. Jasper Brinkley, on the other hand, notched a team-leading eight tackles against the Rams, and along with rest of the Cardinals run stoppers, kept lead back Daryl Richardson to 63 yards on 20 carries.
It’ll be interesting to see how Brinkley performs against a much more proven back in Reggie Bush. Bush is the true X-factor for this Lions offense, and if he is kept under wraps, Arizona’s chances in a shootout look much better.
By the Numbers
Detroit 2013 Record: 1-0
Arizona 2013 Record: 0-1
When the two teams met in 2012, the Cardinals obliterated the Lions 38-10, snapping a nine-game losing streak for the Red Birds. Stafford was intercepted three times in that game.
Lions record from 2003-2012: 48-112
Cardinals record from 2003-2012: 65-95
Career numbers for Calvin Johnson: 492 rec, 7,873 yds, 54 TD (drafted 2007)
Career numbers for Larry Fitzgerald: 772 rec, 10,493 yds, 79 TD (drafted 2004)
Stafford’s per-game career stats: 24.8 of 41.4 (59.9 comp%) for 286.2 yards, 1.8 TDs, 1.2 INTs. (46 starts)
Palmer’s per-game career stats: 21.1 of 33.7 (62.5 comp%) for 242.2 yards, 1.6 TDs, 1.1 INTs. (123 starts)
Vegas betting line: Detroit is favored by 1.5 points
A few things stand out to me as the optimistically biased Cardinals fan when I predict this game.
One, this game is in University of Phoenix Stadium. Home field is underrated at times, but given the amount of “new regime” propaganda the Cardinals spat out this offseason, I think many Cards fans that were on the fence are curious to see how this new look team will perform. They’ll like what they see.
Two, the Cardinals have so much balance on the offensive side of the ball. Calvin Johnson doesn’t have that much protection, meaning the Cards could get away with putting Peterson and safety help on him all game, severely limiting what Megatron and the Lions pass game is capable of. Palmer has Floyd, Roberts and possibly Housler (if his hamstring checks out) to check down to if Fitz sees double teams.
And third, last year’s head-to-head. A lot of press was buzzing about the low level of quarterback play experienced by the Cardinals in 2012. In week 15, Matthew Stafford was actually worse in a head-to-head with Ryan Lindley. Ryan freakin’ Lindley. Both teams are very talented, and much different than last season, but Arizona has made more blatant changes for the better. So I expect it to go like this:
Detroit scores on their first possession, no problem. Reggie Bush gets some good chunks on his carries, and Calvin Johnson gets some key receptions. Lions up 7-0.
From there, it’s all Cardinals. Arians establishes the Mendenhall run game, setting up the play action, effectively making Arizona’s offense unstoppable. Palmer scores on his first three possessions, one of which the Lions answer to, entering half at 21-14 Cards.
The second half, the Cards will apply what they learned in St Louis, and not let off the gas like they did in week one. Enter the shootout.
Stafford and Palmer trade blows and play the “game”. Stafford is the first to slip up. A Tyrann Mathieu interception halts Detroit momentum with little time left in the fourth quarter, and the Cards milk the clock from there, winning ARZ 35-24 DET.
Disagree? Let me know. Comments and questions and anything of the sort is encouraged.
Kickoff is a 4:05 PM ET on Sunday, Sep 15.